Land titles for more rights for Angelogoveya residents

Reducing the cost of land titles and simplifying the systems can improve land security of the urban poor in Malawi.

Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) and its alliance partner, the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor (Federation) is working with the community of Angelogoveya in the City of Blantyre in formalizing the regularization process of their settlement.  The settlement is made up of 462 low-income wage earners working in the informal sector and doing other menial jobs.

The community is living informally on prime land. They risk eviction. The challenge facing the community is that while the land was offered to the inhabitants in 2006, who consequently developed it, there was no process to actually transfer the land from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to the local authority, Blantyre City Council, so that it is registered in the name of the community. As such, there is a paradoxical case, whereby in principle the people are living as if they are encroachers because there is no documentation in place to support them.  In the absence of this ownership, the community faces limited rights on the land.

It is argued that land rights are a crucial component of economic development. By enhancing tenure security, the regularization of land tenure can yield a series of economic benefits such as increased investments, credit access and productivity. Due to its immobility and relative indestructibility (Binswanger and Rosenzweig 1986), land lends itself to being used as wealth and collateral. And De Soto (2000) further that stressed apart from protecting people from threats of eviction, giving poor families title to their land would be an effective way of boosting their rate of capital accumulation, as it would allow them to access loans. These loans could, in turn, be used for capital investments to boost labour productivity and incomes, thereby reducing poverty.

What could be the solution for Angelogoveya? Engagements with both the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development as well as the Blantyre City Council to regularize the process and consequently facilitate secure tenure for the land have yielded no result in the last 14 years. The stumbling block in these efforts has been financing. Blantyre City Council advised the people to facilitate the process of regularization on their own. This would mean, the 462 households raising funds for surveying services, plot titling, and registration. That will include payments to surveyors to conduct cadastral and individual plot surveys and payments for the lease process to Blantyre City Council.

This is too expensive for this low-income community. The community has accepted to live with limited rights. Threats of eviction have formed part of their existence. Recently some people encroached part of their settlement claiming that it is theirs. Without papers the community’s defense is weak.   

The situation might be a thing for the community of Angelogoveya. CCODE and the Federation in partnership with Cities Alliance, Selavip Foundation and the Blantyre City Council have developed a program to support the community in formalizing their settlement. The program is supporting the settlement to conduct a full cadastral and other related surveys to enable the development of relevant physical plans in line with the National Physical Planning and Surveys Acts. This will enable establishment of a file that will support and regularize the settlement. At this point families will be able to apply for their plot titles. Blantyre City Council and the community are discussing on the best format of handling the lease payments.

What does regularization bring? It brings secure tenure – and with its all sorts of positive impacts. It creates an enabling environment where service provides start providing their services such as water and electricity. This allows the community to start enjoying their city rights such services as any other citizens.

Does CCODE intends to lobby for mass land regularization in the City of Blantyre – or indeed in the other cities? In the absence of external financing, this process is going to be very difficult. The process we are facilitating in Angelogoveya has exposed fault lines in the land administration system of the city. It’s too expensive for poor people. It does not consider their needs. Such systems would have to change. The system has to be made simple and adjust to the needs of the poor.  And indeed, the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP 2008) summarized this point by arguing that programmes that use simple processes to grant property rights are a practical and inclusive tool that allows for greater security in land tenure. We cannot help but agree with them and we feel this is our next assignment.

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